Sunday 31 October 2021

356) Tehillim as therapy?



I recall some years ago, the Lubavitcher Rebbe asked a number of religious psychologists to research Jewish mysticism and develop a “kosher” form of meditation for observant Jews. In this article, based extensively on Brent Strawn’s research[1] on psychology and psalms, we explore the possibility of using Tehillim as a personal form of spiritual therapy.

Attachment Theory

Since earlier times, Biblical psychology was generally synonymous with systemic theology (the theology of any given religious system). Today, we can be a little more universal and use modern psychology by applying it to biblical texts, including Tehillim.

Sunday 24 October 2021

355) R. Moshe Ibn Gigatila: The Psalms are just prayers



In the previous post, The Psalms are not prayers, we saw how Rav Saadia Gaon held the unusual view that psalms may not be used as prayers and that, like the Torah itself they are meant only to be studied but not prayed. Psalms are not liturgy. According to Rav Saadia, the psalms were used as a strictly controlled and regulated ritual during Temple times, but never as liturgy (supplications or prayers). On this view, the psalms were never an ‘early prayer book’ as was claimed by the Karaite Jews. It is believed that Rav Saadia formulated his unusual and limited view on the function of the psalms, in reaction to the Karaites, who had rejected the Rabbanite siddur and used the psalms as their prayer book instead.

In this article, however, based extensively on the work by Professor Uriel Simon[1], we explore another unusual view of the psalms. This is the view held by R. Moshe Ibn Gigatila, who believed that that the psalms are indeed prayers - but nothing more than prayers. And because they are just prayers, they are not profoundly holy nor do they carry any prophetic or spiritually subliminal innuendo.

Sunday 17 October 2021

354) Rav Saadia Gaon: The Psalms are not prayers





Rav Saadia Gaon (882-942) was a philosopher and biblical exegete born in Egypt and died in Baghdad during the time of the Abbasid Caliphate. He had some rather interesting views about the origins of the psalms in that he adopted a fundamentalist approach claiming that the five books of psalms served as a ‘second Torah’ revealed to David.

This article is based extensively on the research by Professor Uriel Simon[1].

Sunday 10 October 2021

353) Who Makes Decisions for a Jewish Community?


A page from the manuscript of Pitchei Teshuva by Rabbi Avraham Zvi Eisenstadt (1813-1865)


In terms of Jewish law, exactly what is a kehila (community)? Jewish residents of modern cities like London or Toronto will generally identify with each other only in the loosest of terms. Formal relationships, in non-chassidic communities at least, are usually limited to synagogues and educational institutions of various kinds. 

But it wasn’t always that way. Kehilos in Europe often submitted to the authority of a single rabbi, rabbinical court, and council. It wasn’t uncommon for consumption taxes - typically on the purchase of meat - or membership dues to finance communal services. 

A model based on direct communal responsibility is probably closer to the Torah ideal. But that begs the question: who got to choose the rabbi and his court, and whose voice determined the tax rates everyone else had to pay?

Sunday 3 October 2021

352) The Parshan, Darshan … and Sadran?

Muslim Spain at around the eleventh century 



Parshan and Darshan are terms which usually describe a Torah commentator or exegete, but who is the Sadran? The term Sadran means compiler or editor.  This is not an expression one would expect to find in the context of the Torah. This article, based extensively on the work by Professor Richard Steiner[1] from Yeshiva University explores instances where our classical texts make reference to a Sadran. Interestingly, this is one of the most peer-reviewed papers I have come upon in a long time.

Some of the texts originated in Byzantium (Constantinople) and were discovered in the Cairo Geniza and published by Nicholas de Lange. One is a midrashic commentary on Bereishit and Shemot[2], another is a peshat commentary by R. Reuel of Byzantium, on Ezekiel and the Minor Prophets. Both texts are probably from the tenth or early eleventh century and therefore pre-date Rashi (1040-1105). These different commentaries have one thing in common, they both reference an elusive Sadran or biblical ‘editor’.